The Co-operative College had a difficult year in 2017, the first part of its rebuild phase, members were told at its AGM.
Delegates at the Manchester meeting, on 1 May, heard that during the past 10 months the College has developed its membership base, expanded its learning offer and created new partnerships. At the end of July 2017 the College had 218 individual members and 13 organisational members.
But financial performance is lagging behind operational developments.
“We need the support of individuals and organisations members to get there and help translate lots of goodwill existing towards the College,” said principal Simon Parkinson.
During the past 12 months the College faced a drop in financing from the co-operative movement of £60,000, while interest and dividends also fell by £20,000 but continued to produce capital gains.
Overall, the deficit for the year to 31 July 2017 was £387,000, which finance manager Greg Giddins put down to a combination of costs and change of investments.
As part of the restructuring process, the organisation invested in core skills and areas of expertise, employing full-time marketing and communications and fundraising staff. It also reduced the long-term cost base, which saw three employees leave. This resulted in one-off costs of £81,004, but reduced the cost base going forward by £116,000 a year.
The College’s balance sheet remains strong with over £3.6m net asset, and it has budgeted to cut its deficit by 50% in year to 31 July 2018.
Mr Parkinson confirmed the College’s current performance was in line to achieving that budget. He added the new sources of income would be coming in from 2018 and the organisation would be breaking even in 2021.
The College plans to use some of its reserves to kick-start the co-operative university project, which requires an estimated £200,000. However, the organisation would need the movement’s backing to help raise the funds and develop the project, said Mr Parkinson.
“At the moment out deficit is not sustainable. Returns on investment are helping. But the plan is to get back into accredited learning this year, switch on degree programmes next year and use the charitable status of the College.
“We need the movement to invest in co-op learning. Yes, we want to increase trade income but we need the support of the movement. If the movement doesn’t support it then it isn’t sustainable,” he said.
During the past 10 months the College has also used the income generated by its Pioneers Memorial Fund to assist learners attend its learning programmes and events. Nine bursaries with a total value of £2,356 were awarded to learners.
Projects continue to be the largest source of income for the College, which has six new projects for 2017-2018 and income expected to exceed £300,000. In addition to its on-going project in Malawi, the College has had projects confirmed with Tearfund in Rwanda, Christian Aid in Zambia and is working with the Co-op Foundation on a youth loneliness project in Manchester and Rochdale and as part of two European projects focused on youth entrepreneurship.
Its learning and development income increased to over £100,000 for this period (from £70,000 for the previous year). Events income also doubled during this time to £55,000 while research income also increased to £50,000, twice as much as in the previous 12 months.
The College has also restructured its schools department due to its consultancy in this area having dried up, and says the future work will focus on schools improvement.
Its central income fell from over £320,000 in 2016 to £250,000 in 2017.
The AGM also featured the presentation of the trustee election results. Individual members John Boyle (re-elected) and Emma Robinson were elected on the board while John Nott from Woodcraft Folk was elected as an organisation member.
Members also voted in favour of a resolution put forward by the Association of Solidarity Economy to explore what is happening with co-operative education in the Rojava region of Syria, where co-operatives account for 3% of the area’s GDP.
“We propose that the College heed this call and do anything in its power to help protect the new model of society being build in northern Syria”, said Colm Massey, introducing the resolution.